Shafer News

The End of Corked Corks

Shafer Vineyards Embraces Innovations to Make TCA a Thing of the Past

Shafer Vineyards is pleased to announce that it has embraced innovations in cork technology designed to make the unpleasantness of TCA-ruined wine a thing of a bygone era.

“The end of TCA gives consumers a real reason to celebrate,” says Shafer Vineyards president, Doug Shafer. “Combining the running of an obsessively clean cellar with the latest steps from our cork partners, the chances of a wine leaving Shafer with cork taint have been cut effectively to zero.”

TCA is short for Trichloroanisole, a naturally occurring compound that in low levels can mute the flavors and aromas of wine and in higher levels can give the wine pungent odors similar to wet newspaper and mold. Wines with these kinds of aromas are often called “corked.”

From Rare to Eliminated
“TCA has been a rare problem at Shafer but rare has never been good enough – total elimination has always been the goal,” says Doug Shafer.

Shafer is working on several fronts in the battle against TCA. In two of its wines, Merlot and Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, the winery works with Diam, using their technical corks which come with a TCA-free guarantee.

In its three other wines, Relentless, One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon, and Hillside Select, the winery works with vendor Portocork, which supplies newly-available, specially-tested natural corks that also come with a TCA-free guarantee.

One Goal, Two Paths
These suppliers offer Shafer two different paths to TCA-free bottles. Diam grinds natural cork and treats it with a process, like that of removing caffeine from coffee, that frees the cork at the molecular level of TCA and other contaminants. The clean cork is formed into wine corks at a facility in France.

Portocork uses natural cork but now offers corks that are subjected – one by one – to gas chromatography mass spectrometry testing, keeping only those that test negative for TCA.

“The reasoning behind going with the two types of corks comes down to what we know and what we don’t know about each,” says Shafer.

After testing Diam corks for seven years the Shafer team is confident that they’re TCA free, however, the unknown is how they physically hold up after 20 or 30 years in a bottle. For that reason Shafer made the choice to use Diam in the two wines customers tend open within ten years after purchase.

As for the natural corks that have undergone individual gas chromatography testing, Shafer has run trials on these too and so far has found that they live up to the promise of being TCA-free.

Shafer began bottling wines with both types of corks in early 2015.

Focus on Purity
Another key strategy in the battle against TCA takes place within the winery itself. Shafer has eliminated places where TCA, which is volatile, can find a home such as wood and cardboard. In the barrel room the winery employs an air purification system first used on the Mir Space Station to kill off any organic elements in the air, including TCA and mold spores.

“As a wine matures here at the winery, I have it laboratory tested for the presence of TCA,” says Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez. “I know that on the day of bottling, it’s taint-free. Now I have a lot of confidence that the corks are as well.”

Shafer wines that are closed with the TCA-free corks are:

  • 2012 Hillside Select
  • 2012 Relentless
  • 2013 One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2013 Merlot
  • 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay

If customers believe they have a bottle that is tainted with TCA, Shafer asks them to:

  • re-close the bottle with the original cork in the original position (wine-stained-end down)
  • ensure that a majority of the wine is still inside the bottle
  • send the bottle to the winery

Shafer and the cork supplier will have the cork and the wine laboratory tested for the presence of TCA. If the results are positive the cork supplier will cover the cost of replacing the bottle. The customer’s shipping cost for both the return and for the replacement wine will be covered.